It's that time of the cycle when the true heroes of the political parties stand up - the ninjas of losing, the sacrificial lambs.

National's heroes are Brett Hudson and Paul Goldsmith.

Years of training have gone into turning them into highly skilled practitioners of the art of losing, writes Claire Trevett.

In Hudson's case, his job is to lose Ohariu so United Future leader Peter Dunne stays in Parliament. In Goldsmith's it is to lose Epsom so Act leader David Seymour remains in Parliament.


The more votes Hudson and Goldsmith get, the worse their career prospects.

As one of those involved in the derring-do observed: "They do win - It's just that winning looks a bit different here."

The Greens are trying it out this year.

Alas, they have left things too late to train up losers so have opted to do their wee win-lose arrangement in Ohariu by simply not standing at all. The aim is for the Green deal to overthrow National's deal so Labour's candidate Greg O'Connor emerges victorious.

This is a step further than National has gone in either Epsom or Ohariu.

Former prime minister John Key wanted every party vote possible and was acutely aware of the possibility of a backlash from forcing voters to do his bidding by not standing a candidate at all.

Prime Minister Bill English has shown no inclination to mess with the recipe that has worked very well since 2008.

Whether the Greens even needed to go so far is debatable. The Greens are clever voters.

In 2014, split-voting statistics for Epsom showed 44 per cent of Green voters in Epsom gave their electorate votes to National's Goldsmith in an effort to get Goldsmith voted in instead of Seymour.

Just 31 per cent of Labour voters did the same, despite then candidate Michael Wood's unsubtle campaign for Labour voters to support Goldsmith.

The right are better at it. In both Epsom and Ohariu, about 60 per cent of National voters split their vote and ticked Seymour and Dunne respectively.

Epsom is such a strong National seat it is futile for the left to try to secure it for themselves. Goldsmith got 11,000 votes last time and still Seymour beat him.

But Ohariu is a different matter.

Ohariu voters more or less rang the "last drinks" bell for Dunne in 2017 when his majority shrank to a mere 700 votes.

Hudson pulled 6000 votes in.

Hudson will have to pull his socks up to make sure he is more repellent to voters this time round.

Labour and the Greens have dumped the idea of mutually agreed "electoral accommodations" (the sanitised word for "deals") under their memorandum of understanding.

The Greens' move in Ohariu is because it is the only general seat in which a deal could damage National's chances of forming a government.

On the Labour side of things we also have the deal that dare not speak its name: Northland.

Willow-Jean Prime has put her name forward for Northland again.

Prime stood for Labour in the byelection but once it became clear NZ First leader Winston Peters had a chance of winning, Andrew Little pulled the bung out of her campaign boat and urged Labour voters to vote for Peters.

He did so largely because a Peters' win made it harder for National to get a majority - and that has meant the Resource Management Act reforms were stymied and Labour's paid parental bill made it through to a government veto.

Those factors are not in play at a general election and Little may well not feel the need to send a similar message - unless he thinks it will get him an IOU from Peters.

If he does, Prime's challenge will be even greater than that of Hudson and Goldsmith.

Peters is hyper-sensitive to any suggestion he needs a deal with Labour to help him keep Northland.

So Prime has to ensure she gets very few votes while putting on a convincing show of trying to get votes so Peters does not think Labour is helping him.

Prime's reward is also less certain than that of Hudson and Goldsmith.

The two National MPs are assured of high list places in return for the humiliation that comes from their task.

In Labour, the competition for the comparatively few "winnable" list places is as overheated as the Auckland property market.

The next round of polls will show whether conditions have eased since John Key's resignation.

But Little has already dispensed more promises of high list places than he has in his bank.